How Social Media is Changing the Landscape of American Politics

President Donald Trump

What if I told you 3 years ago that our next American president would be elected primarily by using Twitter?

I think most people would reply, “Yeah, right.”

Until recently, we’ve all thought social media was useful for entertainment, showing selfies no one wants to see or posting what we ate for lunch. Donald Trump, however, saw a different potential and changed the world.

One controversial tweet in 2015 galvanized many in the country like no other:

“Billions of dollars gets brought into Mexico through the border. We get the killers, drugs & crime, they get the money”@realDonaldTrump, July 13, 2015

People were outraged from coast to coast, but suddenly everyone was talking about illegal immigration. The more the media mocked him, the more his influence soared.

Did his use of social media end when he became the leader of the free world? Nope. Consider just a few of his pronouncements in 2017:

  • The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People! (February 17)
  • Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism! (March 4)
  • Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer! (September 23)

President Trump’s use of social media has moved the world to action in historic ways. We are in the midst of an enormous cultural shift, 140 characters at a time, and from just one man.

Social media platforms offer viable ways to influence our world, but most people use them inappropriately. They take to Facebook spewing their latest rant but fail to achieve positive outcomes. In nearly every case, they only reach a few of their “friends” who think the same way.

Facebook has changed their algorithm recently to minimize political rants that do not engage social interactions that meet their criteria. These changes are intended to increase civil discourse on Facebook.

How can one use social media effectively in this politically-charged environment? Since people have passionate views on a range of issues, what are some suggestions for communicating those views in respectful ways?  

A recent article, What Can and Can’t You Do with Political Advertising on Facebook?, may provide some solutions for more responsible communication on Facebook.

Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

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